Facts You Should Know About Cervical Cancer

boy getting shot vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection that comes in a variety of strains.
Komsan Loonprom/Shutterstock

  • HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually-transmitted disease that comes in many different kinds of strains.

  • Some can cause genital warts, while others can cause cancer. You also might be infected, yet present no symptoms at all.

  • Though some people think that it's primarily something that only people who identify as women need to be concerned about, that's not exactly true.

  • Any gender can receive the HPV vaccine, if desired, which is designed to prevent strains that cause both warts and cancer.


Chances are if you're currently a young adult or the parent of young adults, you've heard something about HPV. Whether it came from a primary care physician, gynecologist, TV commercial, or an article on the internet, you might think that you generally already know plenty about the common sexually-transmitted disease and the risks that can come along with contracting it.

But there are also probably still some things that you don't know — or don't understand as well — about the condition that you should know more about. INSIDER recruited some experts to help set the record straight.

1. Anyone can get the vaccine — it's not limited to girls.

If you're a young adult who identifies as a woman, chances are you either received the HPV vaccine or heard something about it. Though vaccines can come with risks and side effects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the HPV vaccine to be safe, and each of the experts that spoke with INSIDER said that they do recommend the HPV vaccine for everyone, because the potential risks associated with the infection are serious.

"This vaccine is extremely effective in preventing both warts and cancer," Dr. Jill Grimes, MD, a family medicine doctor, STD expert, and HPV vaccine expert, told INSIDER. "My kids are the single most precious thing to me on this planet, and they are absolutely immunized. And no, I get no kickbacks or payments from any manufacturer of the HPV vaccine, but I treat college students every day who are sobbing and devastated because they are now stuck with HPV infection (in the form of warts or cancer) for the rest of their lives because they were not immunized. And I speak with cervical cancer survivors who would give anything to go back in time and get the vaccine (many of whom were infected before the vaccines were available)."

It's not just women who need to be concerned about HPV, people of any gender can spread the infection, develop warts, and develop certain kinds of cancers linked to HPV, as well.

2. There's an age cut-off involved.

The vaccine has ages associated with it.
Mary Ann Chastain/AP

If you're hoping to get the vaccine yourself or want your kids to get it, it's important to know that there are ages associated with the vaccine. You can't just get it (or have them get it) whenever you'd like to.

The CDC notes that it's recommended for children starting at age 11 or 12 and that boys can get the vaccine up until the age of 21, or 26 if they're young men having sex with other men, are transgender adults, or have a condition like HIV, which can compromise the immune system.

For women or people with vaginas, the age is slightly different because you have a larger window of time. Kara Manglani, CNM, a midwife and pediatric nurse, told INSIDER that if you're a young woman under the age of 27 (the CDC says 26), she'd recommend the vaccine. Talking to your doctor about exactly when the right time might be for you might also help you determine when to go ahead and get it if that's something that you want to do.

3. Genital warts caused by the infection won't turn into cancer.

Each strain of HPV has different impacts.
Joe Raedle/Getty

Though some people might think that the strains of HPV that cause warts are the same ones that cause cancer and that warts can be a sort of warning sign that they might develop an HPV-related cancer, that's not the case.

"HPV genital warts do not turn into HPV-related cancers; there are many different strains of HPV and some cause warts, while other strains cause cancers," Grimes said. "The great news is that the HPV vaccine prevents both warts and cancers."

4. It's not just cervical cancer — many different kinds of cancers are linked to HPV.

Grimes said that HPV has been associated with cervical cancers, penile cancers, oropharyngeal cancers, vulvar cancers, vaginal cancers, and anal cancers. Though you might already know about its link to cervical cancer, you might be less familiar with its association to other forms of cancers.

"Yes, there are anal and penile cancers from HPV, though numbers are less than cervical cancer in women; but this vaccine may also prevent head and neck cancers caused by HPV," Grimes noted.

That's why preventing HPV infection can be important for people of any gender.

"Vaccination of children prior to sexual activity can potentially eradicate these cancers for future generations," Dr. Crystal Moore, MD, PhD, FCAP, a board-certified pathologist, told INSIDER. "Prevention with vaccination and safe sex practices are the best protection."

5. Women are regularly screened for the infection, but men aren't.

Women are typically checked for HPV and abnormal cells during regular gyno visits.
Universal Pictures

"Women are screened regularly for external genital lesions and HPV infection of cervical cells and abnormalities of cervical cells and cervical cancer, which are over 99% associated with prior HPV infection," Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, told INSIDER. "Men are not screened, unless they are examined for external lesions by their doctor. There is no screening test available for men. (However, technically, men's anuses can be swabbed similar to the manner in which women's cervixes are swabbed, and some physicians may do this in at-risk patients.)"

Because of the potential effects of an HPV infection (and lack of regular screening for men) it's important to prioritize prevention and ask your doctor about what you can do to prevent the infection or about screening methods, if necessary.

6. It's possible that your immune system will take care of the infection.

Some people never experience any obvious or external symptoms of an HPV infection, which can be concerning, since even those who don't experience obvious symptoms can spread the infection. But it's also possible that your immune system might take care of the infection, pushing it out of the body.

"Contracting HPV once is typically harmless," Manglani said. "Cancer and genital warts are typically the result of repeated unresolving infections."

So while there's no "cure" for HPV, in many cases, the virus can, in fact, go away on its own.

HPV can be scary for people because it can lead to more serious conditions, like cancers, but knowing the facts about the virus and related issues can help you feel more in control of your own health.

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Source : http://www.thisisinsider.com/what-is-hpv-2018-6

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